Red tape snag may stop Josai exchange

Sean C. Morgan

A federal recertification process may prevent two Japanese students from Josai University High School of Tokyo from attending Sweet Home High School next school year.

“We had a paperwork malfunction,” said School District 55 Supt. Don Schrader. The federal government is requiring the school to be recertified and when The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, operated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, sent notices to Schrader and the coordinator of the program, Cynde Burford, it was confusing, he said.

“I had to send them my passport,” Schrader said. He sent it and thought everything was set. “I thought it was done a long time ago. Not being involved in it, I didn’t know. I assumed it. It was new to me, and we’re kind of learning our way through it.”

Josai is a high school program and Schrader was copied on e-mails relating to the situation, as he is on many other issues pertaining to local schools, all the time, he said.

“At this point, we’re looking for someone to be the coordinator,” Schrader said. Burford, who retired last year, won’t be doing it any more.

SHHS Principal Keith Winslow has been looking for someone to take over the program, which celebrated its 30th anniversary this year, but he hasn’t found anyone yet.

It was under these conditions that Schrader was unaware of additional steps that were necessary, including a $2,300 permit fee.

After additional notification, the district paid the fee, with funds taken from tuition payments from Josai that were set aside by the district, Schrader said.

He explained the situation to the federal officials and asked if they could help get it done quickly, Schrader said, but they all told him the district needs to get its application in.

Schrader said he sent a letter to Rep. Peter DeFazio seeking help with the situation, but he hasn’t heard back from DeFazio’s office.

“We’re in their system, so we’re just kind of waiting for updated information,” Schrader said.

In a letter to Josai’s coordinators in Japan, Burford said she is trying hard to get permission for the two exchange students to come to Sweet Home as planned.

“However, the U.S. Government will not issue them I-20 forms to visit Sweet Home High School because our certification has lapsed,” Burford said. “This was apparently a new mandate of which our new superintendent was not aware. There has never before been an expiration date on Sweet Home’s ability to host foreign students.”

A previous coordinator told Burford that Sweet Home has never had to reapply for certification before this new rule took effect, Burford said. Last week, federal officials told her that it may take up to a year to complete the certification.

“I have contacted our U.S. congressman, Peter DeFazio, and U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden,” Burford said. Wyden’s office promised an answer within a few days.

Burford also contacted a private exchange student service, which said it could place the students at a different school but could not place them at SHHS.

“I’m so very sad to give you this news,” Burford said in her letter to the Japanese coordinators. “When Bob (Burford) and I were in Japan, our new superintendent reported to us that he was trying to fix the problem so that the Josai students could come to Sweet Home. I have been trying for months, before and after our trip to Josai, to correct this problem. During our Japan visit, I truly believed that the problem would be fixed before now.”

Burford sees only one hope now, she said. That is if Wyden can get SEVIS to allow the girls to come to Sweet Home.

“I’m so sorry that Sweet Home School District has disappointed you and your students,” Burford said. “To see a 30-year-long program stopped suddenly like this is heartbreaking. Many citizens in Sweet Home will be saddened when they hear this news. I will continue to do my best to try and repair this situation so that hopefully the program can resume soon.”

In a speech, also presented as an open letter to Sweet Home, given June 22 during a 30th-anniversary celebration at Josai when Sweet Home students were visiting there, Josai Principal Mashimo Sensei highlighted the 30-year relationship between the schools.

“During that time, many students have had the opportunity to study abroad at Sweet Home High School. It is hard to believe that there is not a family in Sweet Home that has not hosted a Josai student over the years. We have only been able to continue this program because of the cooperation and understanding of the people of Sweet Home.

“The many students who have studied abroad at Sweet Home were able to find their dream there and come closer to making it a reality.

“I have visited Sweet Home High School on two occasions. And although he has since passed on, Mr. Wenzel took very good care of us while we were there. One of my oldest friends is Rob Younger, Sensei (teacher).

“He has since retired. Steven Hummer, Cynde and Bob Burford, my friends. The clean water, lush greenery, the kindness of the people, Sweet Home definitely lives up to its namesake, for it truly is a sweet home.

“The interactions of young people soon becoming friends, should not only be seen as a path of improving relations between Japan and America but as a way that countries around the world can improve relations and achieve peace.

“Like the saying that no two snowflakes are alike to each other, I hope that we can continue to foster our truly unique relationship between our two schools and the friendship that our respective students have formed long as long as we are able.”